According to a whistleblower disclosure to US regulators, a former top Twitter executive claims that the Indian government “forced” Twitter to employ people who were “government agents” and who had access to a lot of user data on the social media network.
The accusations have surfaced as Twitter and the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) are engaged in a legal dispute on the latter’s content blocking orders.
Pieter “Mudge” Zatko, a former head of safety at Twitter, filed a complaint with the US Securities and Exchange Commission alleging that “the company did not in fact disclose to users that it was believed by the executive team that the Indian government had succeeded in placing agents on the company payroll.”
He claimed the business had “knowingly” allowed a “agent of the Indian government to have direct unrestricted access to the company’s systems and user data.”
According to Zatko’s complaint, “the threat of harm to Twitter employees was sufficient to cause Twitter to seriously consider complying with foreign government requests that Twitter would otherwise fundamentally oppose” in nations where Twitter needed to have a physical presence and full-time employees.
Moreover, he stated that the governments of Russia, Nigeria, and India “tried, with varied degrees of success, to compel Twitter to hire local FTEs (full-time employees) that might be used as leverage.”
Mudge had prominent positions before joining Twitter at Google, Stripe, and the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), where he won the highest honour given to non-career civilian personnel.
MeitY announced the Information Technology Rules, 2021, in February of last year. These regulations required social media corporations to hire important employees, or “nodal officers,” whose primary responsibility it was to serve as a point of contact for law enforcement agencies in their investigations. Additionally, the businesses had to employ a grievance officer to handle user complaints and a compliance officer to make sure the requirements were followed.
It is unclear if there is any connection between Zatko’s allegations that the firm employed a “government agent” and the workers that Twitter was required to hire in accordance with the IT Rules, 2021. According to Zatko, US intelligence had been provided with proof to back up this assertion.
Apparently due to “ineffective leadership and poor performance,” Zatko was let go from his position with Twitter in January 2022, according to a statement from a Twitter representative.
“What we’ve seen so far is a false narrative about Twitter and our privacy and data security standards that is rife with contradictions and falsehoods and lacks crucial context,” the company said. Mr. Zatko’s accusations and shrewd timing seem to be intended to garner attention and hurt Twitter, its users, and its stockholders. The business representative stated that security and privacy have historically been top considerations at Twitter and will remain so.
The findings come as Twitter is involved in two prominent court disputes: one with the government of India over some of its content filtering orders, and another with Tesla CEO Elon Musk over his attempt to withdraw from his earlier $44 billion offer to purchase the social media business.
Twitter filed a petition with the Karnataka High Court last month asking for the government’s decision to block 39 links to be overturned. The blocking orders, according to Twitter, were outside the reach of the law.